To mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie, the BBC is bringing two of the great novelist’s lesser known capers to the small screen on Sunday nights for a brand new 6-part drama series.
Based upon The Secret Adversary and N or M?, the titular partners in crime are married couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (David Walliams and Jessica Raine). An unlikely crime-fighting duo they may be but a chance meeting with a stranger on a train back from Paris, as is so often the case, thrusts them into an ever spiraling plot of disappearances, mistaken identity and assassinations in early 1950s Cold War-era London.
Tuppence, a housewife but avid reader of crime novels and private detective-in-waiting, has her interest piqued immediately when their mystery train companion, Jane Finn, disappears, leaving only a notebook of clues. Unbeknownst to the Beresfords, she conceals a recording in a package they are carrying which provides the identity of a Society spy in the capital, there to assassinate a public figure.
Tommy, a not-so-avid reader of books on beekeeping and rather prim and proper suburban gent, would prefer to keep his nose out of it all and instead concentrate on his hives – the latest in a long line of failed enterprises it would seem. After some encouragement, his bumbling and awkward manners give way to his wife’s fervent enthusiasm and excitement in a quest to discover what has happened to Ms. Finn. Why not trying being a government asset after beekeeping?
Tommy’s uncle, a military man, now runs the secret “Third Floor” organisation dealing with the Russian threat and has two new recruits before he knows it. Not afraid to disregard the rules laid down by Uncle ‘Carter’ (a bespectacled James Fleet), the first few episodes suggest that Tuppence isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and will stop at nothing to unravel this particular mystery, even though they may be in over their heads. Lucky, then, that son George is shipped off to boarding school where he’ll be safe… Or is he?
As with the more familiar Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries there a moments of dark humour here to which Mr. Walliams’ comic timing is well attuned. Amorous approaches towards his wife when disguised as a blond maid fall on deaf ears but do elicit a wry smile. British pride and stiff upper lip-ness clash to some degree with Clarke Peters’ (of The Wire) entrepreneurial American, interested in rescuing his niece but Tommy is suspicious of his intentions, and so are we.
If Tuppence and Tommy are more forthright and foolhardy, it is perhaps old friend Albert (also an asset, working as a chemistry teacher) that is the brains of the operation. Jonny Phillips plays the bad guy and has the chops to do so. The cast certainly has potential and direction by Edward Helm keeps things bouncing along nicely.
The Beresfords are an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstances and whilst their adventures tread familiar ground the series should be entertaining Sunday night programming. It’s not tense enough to have you on the edge of your seat, but maybe the middle and getting to know this man and wife pair of Christie sleuths is a worthwhile step away from the comfort of a little moustachioed Belgian man or a little old English lady. I’m glad we’re keeping the great hats, though.
You can see it on Sunday evenings at 9pm.